Assessments In Coaching: Why, And Which Ones?

After years of blending the disciplines of counseling psychology, leadership and executive coaching, I have found this integrated approach to consistently achieve superior results, especially when paired with a well-researched, proven assessment to use with my coaching clients. Graduate programs for counseling psychology require extensive education and experience on the correct use of assessments.

I have found that in instances where I worked with clients whose previous coach used assessments without sufficient training, it created confusing misinformation. In several situations, the misuse of assessments created episodes of derailing distress.

When used by an appropriately trained professional, assessments provide deeper insights more quickly than could be achieved without using assessments. I’ve also found the use of assessments to often create epiphanies surprisingly early in the client relationship.

Research demonstrates that assessments are
widely used in coaching. Experts estimate there are more than 5,000 psychological assessments in the English language. Personally, my five-drawer filing cabinet is filled with different assessments. But maybe that’s just me? Sidenote: Hi, my name is Ron, and I’m an assessment geek!

study investigating the use of psychometrics in coaching reported that assessments increase the coach’s understanding of their coachee and they can provide “the ‘most powerful take away’ to coachees in terms of generating better self-insight and awareness.” McDowall and Smewing (2009) found that the use of psychometrics is beneficial to the coach, coachee and the coaching process.

In my experience, assessments help the coach have a better understanding of their clients. They also provide greater self-insight and self-awareness to coachees. Assessments help clients organize their self-perceptions and create actionable goals with a more complete understanding of themselves.

My clients report the “head start” and greater ongoing self-understanding that assessments provide are among the most powerful takeaways from their coaching engagement. Most of the time, I ask my clients to complete an assessment before our second session and debrief their results in the next session. This process opens important areas for discussion and provides structure to our coaching sessions.

By utilizing assessments, I gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of my clients and do so more rapidly. My clients use the unique insights provided by assessments to help guide their reflection and move them toward their goals. Without assessments, coaches are more prone to pursuing goals that are only symptoms of an underlying cause. By focusing on the areas of greatest return on time, money and effort investment, I get to important foundational issues faster and with greater clarity.

When selecting an assessment, I make sure that it has published reliability and validity studies. As a coach, you should only use assessments that have been well researched and validated. Next, I determine whether the assessment is likely to create unique insights that will add value to the coaching process. If the assessment results are either redundant or unrelated to coaching goals, do not use it. It’s also critically important to only use assessments for their intended purpose. When driving nails, don’t use a screwdriver when a hammer is the correct tool for the job.

Not all assessments are created equal, nor are all coaches equally prepared to interpret and provide assessment feedback. Only use assessments that you have the necessary qualifications to use in your coaching practice. The minimum qualifications are understanding what it measures and feedback training. Some psychometric experts, myself included, believe that a coach’s feedback skills are as important as the selection of the assessment instrument. Consider the quality of the assessment’s reports. I choose assessments whose reports are easy to understand and difficult to misinterpret. Another important factor to consider is ease of use. Only use assessments that require an hour or less to complete. Personally, I prefer those that require 30 minutes or less. The longer the assessment, the greater the diminishing return on investment.

I want to once again stress the importance of having proper training when debriefing coaching clients on an assessment. I have observed disastrous results from an ill-equipped coach providing inaccurate information when debriefing a client and/or debriefing a client who was not equipped to hear the information contained in the report. It seems obvious, but in my opinion, coaches should not offer services that are outside their competence.

Without assessments, coaching clients can use the coaching process to help them view themselves in a mirror. With assessments, clients can view themselves in a three-way mirror, like those used in dressing rooms, providing insights, perspectives and a more thorough understanding of themselves. These types of deep insights are difficult to achieve without assessments, and that’s why I always use and encourage all coaches to use assessments in their coaching practice.

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Ron Young

Dr. Ron Young, the Co-Founder/Chief Science Officer & lead psychologist of PAIRINspecializes in professional coaching & development.